It's that time of year again when a million office and factory bulletin boards will be offering free flu shots. Just see the company nurse.

If the swine flu fiasco of last year caused anyone to ask questions, it was no one in authority. From all outward signs organized health and medicine has concluded that whatever went wrong was the one-in-a-billion shot which eludes the most carefully constructed fall-safe mechanism.

We are evidently committed, past backing off, to the immunization-vaccination idea whenever and however it can be applied. The men and women of science may be writing into the learned journals with reservations and qualifications, but all the pronouncements made for television add up to the assertion that currently available vaccines are so safe that they are to be used to prevent either/both rare and non-life-threatening diseases. (It's true that you can die of chicken pox, so you can't accurately say such a thing as non-life-threatening disease exists, but you are more likely to lose your life playing golf in a thunderstorm than from chicken pox.)

The drive is on in some locales to make sure inoculations compulsory by keeping children from school who can't produce a doctor's certificate attesting to their having been given the needle. The impression is encouraged that any parent who doesn't see to it that the kid is vaccinated is responsible for unleashing typhoid Mary on the neighborhood and the school.

In recent years the government, in conjunction with the news media, has made us aware of our enemy, the germ, and the infectiously hostile universe we live in as never before.

Disease, like the weather, has been nationalized by a media that can't find enough crime and rascality to provide its audience with emotional thrills and stills. Thus as the government supplied satellite pictures in forms of highs and lows in Ouagadougou and Novosibirsk - meteorological phenomena we were once content to be ignorant of - now the government's Center for Disease Control does the same for sickness.

Be it mumps in Murfreesboro, veteran's disease in Valdosta, chicken pox in Chicopee or measles in Mariposa, their occurrence is reported in their clinical entirely with almost as much fidelity as the doings of Son of Sam. A resident of St. Petersburg, Fla., or Seattle, Wash., can now partake of a worry or anxiety of a community health program thousands of miles away.

If you not only have your own measles but everybody else's measles moving on you like a weather front, it follows you have a desperate need for some person in a white smock to empty the contents of a hypodermic needle into your body and that of your defenseless small children. Or does it?

It makes good sense to immunize somebody such as a pregnant woman or a woman who intends to become pregnant against the form of measles which can cause blindness in her unborn child. It makes considerably less sense to use the power of the state to compel everyone, regardless of vulnerability or the robustness of their general state of health, to undergo the procedure by denying children schooling if their parents won't vaccination over the last 20 or 25 years justifies consideratible skepticism when claims for the procedure's safety are advanced. The swine flu vaccination isn't the only shot that probably caused more disease than it prevented. The same may be said of the experience with polio shots in the 1950s, and there are those today who say wise parents are better advised to gamble on their kids getting polio than getting whatever they may get from taking a shot.

Safety, which always translates into relative safety in real world language, is hard establish. The medical people who sold Jerry Ford on swine flu, or the prevention thereof, thought that the vaccine was safe. One of the catches, though, is that a substance that kills 11 people, say, out of every 100,000 can come up looking very safe if you tested on only 20,000. It will look completely safe if the fatal symptoms don't develop until six months or two years after the shots have been administered while the observation period for the testing program is only three months. With all our discoveries about the effects on the human body of ingesting substances not found in nature, one thing we ought to know by now, is that many of these toxins - and vaccinations are toxins by definition - kill slowly or kill only after the lapse of significant periods of time.

Obviously the sensible thing for people to do when they see the free flu shot sign on the bulletin board is weigh the pros and cons of it. But everywhere you turn all you hear are the pros. It's safe, don't worry about it, trust us, it's too complicated to explain but believe us, we wouldn't give you a bum steer. The cons we only hear about after the reports of the first fatalities.

The ending is that the vaccination programs will go on, and somewhere down the road swine flu II or worse will be waiting for us.